Instant Runoff Voting/Ranked Choice Voting

What is Ranked Choice Voting

Ranked choice voting (RCV) is an election system that allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference, and then uses those rankings to elect candidates with broad support.

Note: Ranked choice voting is an umbrella term that encompasses a range of elections systems including instant runoff voting and choice voting. Terminology for ranked choice voting systems is not used consistently across the field. For example, choice voting is also called preference voting and single transferable vote; it is also a form of fair representation voting. For clarity on terminology, please visit our Glossary page.   



Voters have the option to rank as many or as few candidates as they wish without fear that ranking less favored candidates will harm the chances of their most preferred candidate. RCV can be used for single-winner elections as well as multi-seat elections. RCV empowers voters with more meaningful choice, minimizes strategic voting and creates a positive atmosphere where candidates campaign to the voters rather than against each other. By maximizing the power of voters and choice among candidates, ranked choice voting creates a more representative democracy. Click here for more information. 


How Ranked Choice Voting Works in Single-Winner and Multi-Winner Elections 

Instant Runoff Voting and Fair Representation Systems 

Mike Griffin State Fair

Whether being used to elect a single winner (like for mayor or governor) or to elect multiple winners (like a city council or state legislators in a multi-seat district), ranked choice voting allows voters to rank the candidates in order of preference and then uses those rankings to elect candidates with broad support. In either case, every voter has exactly one vote, and the rankings determine which candidates that one vote will count for in each round of counting.


Single Seat Ranked Choice Voting (Instant Runoff Voting) 

In a single seat ranked choice voting election, sometimes called instant runoff voting, votes are first distributed by first choices. If no candidate has more than half of those votes, then the candidate with the fewest first choices is eliminated. The voters who selected the defeated candidate as a first choice will then have their votes added to the totals of their next choice. This process continues until a candidate has more than half of the active votes or only two candidates remain. The candidate with a majority among the active candidates is declared the winner.

Resources on Instant Runoff Voting


Multi-Seat Ranked Choice Voting Elections (Fair Representation Voting)

Ranked choice voting for multi-seat elections is a form of fair-representation voting. This means candidates who receive a certain share of votes will be elected; this share of votes is called the threshold. A candidate who reaches the threshold is elected, and any excess votes over the threshold are then counted for the voters’ second choices. Then, after excess votes are redistributed, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. The voters who selected the defeated candidate as a first choice will then have their votes counted for their second choice. This process continues until all seats are filled.


Choice Voting: An American Form of Proportional Representation  

cambridgeChoice voting refers to the used of ranked choice voting in multi-seat elections. It is an American, candidate-based form of proportional representation that allows like-minded voters to elect candidates in proportion to their share of the vote in multi-member constituencies. Through choice voting, like-minded groupings of voters win legislative seats in better proportion to their share of the population. Whereas winner-take-all elections award 100% of power to a 50.1% majority, choice voting allows voters in a minority to win a fair share of representation.


Top Four Elections: A Better Alternative to the Jungle Primary 

ResizedImage600400 golden gate bridgeThe "Top Two" system has gained attention as a means of addressing political issues through election reform. Unfortunately, Top Two severely limits voter choice, and evidence suggests that it does not accomplish its stated goals well. For states using or considering Top Two, FairVote recommends a ranked choice alternative: Top Four. Simply advance four candidates instead of two, and conduct the general election by ranked choice voting!

Click here to read more about Top Four.  


Featured Blog Posts

RCV New Releases

  • Top Two in California Primaries, June 2012: By the Numbers

    June 13, 2012

    On June 5, California held its first "top two" primary in races for Congress and state legislature. All candidates competed against one another. Voters cast one vote, and the top two finishers advanced. FairVote today released an analysis of the primaries based on a series of disturbing numbers. 


    November 9, 2011

    Tuesday, November 8, San Francisco held Rank Choice Voting elections for mayor, sheriff, and district attorney. FairVote has analyzed public electronic ballot images and results of the elections. Almost all ballots cast were valid, and many voters ranked more than one candidate, indicating that San Francisco voters understand RCV.